Cubase 9 – Elements10:28, 1st November 2017
This is a corrected version of a review from Music Teacher October 2017.
Cubase 9, Steinberg’s latest digital audio workstation (DAW), will have been popping up in your music catalogues since late 2016, and you may have noticed that Cubase comes in three different packages: Pro, Artist and Elements. Similarly, you may have spotted the wide price disparity between the different versions, with Pro clocking in at £250 and Elements at just £49. So what’s the difference? Surely it must be a great deal given the £200 price increase?
MT looked at the Pro version a few months ago and I’ve been delving a little deeper into what the entry-level Elements version provides with its comparatively tiny price tag – not just from the point of view of a (self-confessed) music-tech nerd, but also through the eyes of a music teacher, thinking about the practicalities and limitations of this particular piece of music software in the music classroom and where it could be most appropriately used.
For those who have got this far and aren’t particularly au fait with Cubase and DAWs in general, I would describe it as an application that can be used to record, edit and arrange audio and MIDI data. This program and its contemporaries are very sophisticated, with a plethora of functions and tools that are put together to enable the user to compose and record with as few limitations as possible. For this reason I wouldn’t recommend any version of Cubase for younger students; this is a program firmly aimed for users with some pre-existing musical understanding. For software to use with pre-GCSE students I would look at Steinberg’s much-missed Sequel software, GarageBand, or online software such as Soundtrap.
Cubase Elements contains much of the sophistication of its big brothers, Pro and Artist, but it has some limitations that might tempt the user into buying the more expensive versions – the most obvious of these being a limit in the number of audio tracks to 48 and MIDI tracks to 64, with limitation also put on simultaneous inputs and outputs. For most students in schools this is more than enough to meet their needs. Most compositions at GCSE level that I have seen have seldom breached 20 audio or MIDI tracks.
There are also only three virtual instruments built in with Elements compared with the eight found in Pro, giving you a more limited range of timbres to experiment with. Although reduced in number, the choice of virtual instruments is good. HALion, a sampler with most standard instrument sounds preloaded; Groove Agent, a drum machine; and Prologue, a synthesiser. These will be sufficient for all but the most advanced students up to GCSE level. You will also find fewer group tracks and a reduced range of audio and MIDI effects processors. The score notation facility is also basic, although in my experience students who compose using notation are more likely to use other software for their initial note entry or editing before moving on to Cubase.
One of the exciting new features in this version that has been conspicuously absent in the past is a sampling tool, here in the form of the Sampler Track. It enables you take audio samples from your arranger window, drag them into the sample window, and begin playing your sample across your keyboard. I have found this to be fairly intuitive and flexible, and a very useful creative addition. You can also edit audio samples like MIDI on the Piano Roll. For those students who are into electronic music production this will be a very welcome addition, as this kind of flexible sampling has become a prominent feature of modern production styles and for them, a DAW without this capability feels seriously lacking. If I worked in a school already decked out with Cubase Elements 8 I would consider upgrading to Version 9 for this feature alone.
If you are running A-level music technology I think you will find Elements to be too limited for your needs, especially if your students are hoping to access the top grades in the composing and recording tasks and in the mixing and producing examination. In this instance I would definitely recommend running either Artist (at a minimum) or Pro on your studio systems.
In conclusion I would recommend Cubase Elements 9 as a high-quality, low-cost means of providing DAWs to the majority of your department computers. It is an effective tool for students who are just starting out in composition and music production, and will inspire some of them to develop their skills so that they require more advanced versions of the software. It is also worth remembering that this is multi-platform software, and it is a very good option for departments with PCs or Macs.
This review of Steinberg’s Cubase Elements 9, first published in MT October 2017, originally stated that the software required a physical dongle for use. In fact, Cubase Elements 9 does not require a dongle. We are happy to correct the error and apologise for any confusion caused. For more information on Elements, go to tinyurl.com/MTCubaseElements or www.steinberg.net.